Photo of Professor Catherine Rider

Professor Catherine Rider

MA, PhD (London)

Associate Professor in Medieval History


01392 724326

I am interested in the religious and cultural history of Europe in the late Middle Ages. My research to date has focused particularly on the history of magic and the church's attitude to magic.  I have recently completed a book on this, Magic and Religion in Medieval England published in 2012 by Reaktion Books, which looks at how medieval English clergy defined magic, which practices they viewed as magical and why, and how they persuaded people not to do magic.  

I continue to be interested in magic but I am now working on a project on attitudes and responses to infertility in medieval England (thanks to a year of research leave funded by the Leverhulme Trust in 2011-12).  This builds on some of my other interests in the history of sex and marriage and the history of medicine.  I will be looking a medical texts but also at non-medical sources which discuss infertility, such as Bible commentaries, sermons and saints' lives, in order to trace the varying attitudes to childless couples and the responses available in the Middle Ages. 

I am also co-investigator on an AHRC-funded project, 'Magic in Malta, 1605: Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur and the Roman Inquisition', led by my colleague Prof. Dionisius Agius (Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies)

Research interests

My research interests are in the medieval cultural and religious history.  Much of my research to date has focused on the history of magic and popular religion in the late Middle Ages. My book Magic and Religion in Medieval England, published in 2012 by Reaktion Books, focuses on the church's attitude to magic, which can be found in the confesssion and preaching manuals written by reforming churchmen from the thirteenth century onwards. I use these sources as a way of looking at how church reformers perceived popular religious practices (such as divination and healing), and how they decided which practices were legitimate and which were not. 

Since completing the book I have been working on a new project on 'Attitudes and Responses to Infertility in Medieval England'.  This will examine how people viewed infertility (What did they think caused it? Did they tend to blame the man or the woman?) and how they responded to it (Medicine? Prayer?).  This project brings together several of my research interests: in medieval religoius culture, the history of medicine, and the history of sex and marriage.  I am currently writing up the material I gathered during a year of research leave funded by the Leverhulme Trust in 2011-12. 

Other Interests

I continue to be interested in attitudes to magic and the supernatural in the Middle Ages.  I am a co-investigator on the AHRC funded project 'Magic in Malta, 1605: The Moorish Slave Sellem Bin al-Sheikh Mansur and the Roman Inquisition', led by Prof. Dionisius Agius in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. I also co-organised a conference on 'Demons and Illness: Theory and Practice from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period' with Dr Siam Bhayro (Theology and Religion) in April 2013.

I am also interested in confession and preaching manuals in their own right, and previously worked on a project funded by the British Academy's Neil Ker Memorial Fund to edit one short thirteenth-century manual, Sciendum Est Autem Sacerdotibus [Priests should know...], and to study the manuscripts in which it is found for evidence about the people who read and copied it.

Previous to these projects, my PhD research focused on late medieval writing on magic as a cause of sexual impotence (a topic which interested canon lawyers and theologians because of its implications for marriage law, and also medical writers). For a very brief summary of this see my article in the Lexikon zur Geschichte der Hexenverfolgungen, available online at (scroll down for the English version).

Recent Conference and Seminar Papers:

July 2015: Do You Need to Have Children? Medieval Theologians and Infertiliy, International Medieval Congress, Leeds

April 2015: Magic and Medicine in the Trial of Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur, workshop on the 'Figure of the Witch' project, Bristol University, UK.

February 2015: Infertility and Medicine in Medieval England, medieval seminar, Cardiff University, UK.

July 2014: Defining and Perceiving Infertility in Medieval England, conference on 'Perceptions of Pregnancy, Medieval to Modern', University of Hertfordshire, UK.

July 2014: God's Will, Old Age and Miraculous Conception: Infertility in Late Medieval Religious Writing, International Medieval Congress, Leeds University, UK

May 2014: Stones, Metals and Plants against Magic in Medieval Medical Texts, International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, USA.

  July 2013: Responses to Infertility in Late Medieval England, Conference on Infertility in History, Science and Culture, University of Edinburgh.

 June 2013: Treating Magical Illnesses in the Middle Ages, Keynote lecture for postgraduate conference on Sorcery in the Supernatural in Medieval Culture, Bangor University.

Research supervision

I am happy to supervise research students interested in the religious culture of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England, especially topics relating to magic, popular religion, pastoral care and marriage; and students interested in the interaction between medicine, religion and society.

I am happy to discuss research proposals in these areas.  If you are interested in working with me, please get in touch, sending a 500-word outline of your proposed research topic and a CV.

Research students

In Progress

As 1st Supervisor

Hannah West, Rural Piety: Religious Houses and the Cura Animarum in Parochial Somerset (jointly supervised with Sarah Hamilton)

Tamsin Gardner, Monastic Wellbeing and Healthcare in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century England

As 2nd Supervisor

Tabitha Stanmore, Gender and Magic in England, c.1350-1650 (South West and Wales Doctoral Studentship; first supervisor Prof. Ronald Hutton, Bristol University)


Christopher Wilson: The Dissemination of Vision Narratives of the Otherworld in Thirteenth-Century England (jointly supervised with Sarah Hamilton) (completed 2012)

Edward Mullins: Using cognitive science to think about the twelfth century: revisiting the individual in twelfth-century Latin texts (jointly supervised with Julia Crick) (completed 2011)

External impact and engagement

I have given public talks to the Historical Association (Truro) and the Global Centre (Exeter) and am a council member for the Devon and Cornwall Record Society, a charity which publishes historical documents from Devon and Cornwall.  I have also taken part in public engagement events for the 'Magic in Malta 1605' project in the UK and Malta.

Contribution to discipline

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Council Member, Devon and Cornwall Record Society

Editorial Board Member, ‘Premodern Health, Disease and Disability’ series, Amsterdam University Press


I enjoy communicating my research to non-specialist audiences and have talked about a variety of medieval topics on BBC Radio 4 ('Making History' and 'The Today Programme') and BBC Radio Devon. Among the things I have talked about are medieval New Year superstitions, medieval popular religion, and approaches to the history of sexuality in the Middle Ages.


Most of the modules I teach are informed directly by my own research interests.  My third-year course on 'Magic in the Middle Ages' covers a field where the scholarship is developing rapidly, and I continue to tweak the content of the module to respond to new developments.  The courses I co-teach on 'Medicine in Medieval and Early Modern England' and 'Sexualities' also reflect my interests in the history of medicine and of sex and marriage.  In all these courses I bring in documents and debates which I'm thinking about for my own research, and I also encourage students to explore their own interests.  It's really useful for me to read the primary sources with groups of enthusiastic and able students - they make me ask new questions and think harder even about familiar documents.


Modules taught


I have always been fascinated by history, especially medieval history, and after growing up in Sussex I did a BA in History at University College London.  I moved to King's College London for an MA in Medieval History, before going back to UCL to do a PhD on 'Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages', under the supervision of Professor David d'Avray. The book of my PhD thesis, also called Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages, was published in 2006 and won the Folklore Society's Katharine Briggs Award 2006, given annually to a book on a folklore topic.

I came to Exeter in September 2007 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2012.  Before 2007 I held a Junior Research Fellowship at Christ's College, Cambridge (2004-7), where I also taught medieval European history and the history of medicine; and I also spent a brief spell working for the University of London Careers Service.